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Everyone knows, I think, today’s Gospel story. We hear it fairly often, and it’s fairly straightforward. There are no hidden nuances in the text – well, there’s one big one, which we’ll get to – but all told, it’s all pretty clear. And that can make the text challenging. We’re so convinced we understand what it says that we don’t think too much about it. So bear with me a little bit here, as we try to break open what the Scriptures say.
Really try to immerse yourself in the scene today. Where are we? Does Saint Luke bother to tell us? No, he doesn’t – it’s just a nameless village that Jesus passes through. He’s on the way to Jerusalem, passing through Galilee and Samaria – he’s out in the back forty, folks. It’s not an important town. There’s no significance to it. Except for the fact that Jesus came there. Like he comes to each one of us.
If it’s not the town, then, it’s the people, right? Particularly, the ten lepers. And notice how he encounters these lepers. It says that the lepers met him. They took the initiative. He didn’t trip over them at the gate of the town; didn’t take a wrong turn down a street and find them, didn’t even show up and say, “Bring me your sick so that I might heal them!” Instead, the lepers came to him. They had heard of Jesus, and they came to him. Much as how we have come to be here today – we have heard of Jesus, and we want Him to do something for us.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in the very beginning – Part One, Chapter One, Section One, defines faith as a person’s response to God. These ten nameless lepers clearly had some kind of faith. They went to Jesus, and in loud voices cried out asking Him to have pity on them. We come into His presence today as well. Is our faith strong enough to move us to cry out to Him?
We’ll come back to the lepers in a minute; but now, think about the people who don’t appear in the Gospel at all. Where are Jesus’ disciples in all this? These were people of faith, too; they had an encounter with Jesus, and they made a response to it – in some cases, a very radical response. Peter, James, John – all of the apostles, and others whom we don’t know – left everything to follow Jesus. They had plenty of faith. Surely they were with Him when he entered this little village – so why are they not in the text? Where they repulsed by these lepers? Leprosy has devastating effects on the human body; it’s just not pretty. Maybe they didn’t want to look on it. Maybe they were afraid. No one wants to catch it, and it could be very contagious.
The disciples were faithful, but maybe their faith was a little shallow. Responding to God sometimes means being taken out of our comfort zone, and we don’t like that. And so we don’t respond. And so we shut ourselves off from others. Is our faith shallow? Do we only respond to God when it’s convenient for us?
Let’s revisit the lepers, because they have something else to teach us. Jesus doesn’t immediately cleanse them. Instead, he sends them on to Jerusalem, to the temple, to show themselves to the priests. And they go! Look how strong that faith is – that they, knowing they were still unclean, knowing they were outcasts, and probably feeling more than a little disappointed they were not immediately healed – they immediately go, and set off for the place where God dwells. In all of their pain and filth and brokenness, their response is not to question, but to go. They don’t allow the past to crush them, but their faith moves them forward. Does our faith do the same?
But a funny thing happens on the way to the temple. They get healed! I wonder how far they were in the journey when it happened. Who was the first to notice? How did they notice? What was their reaction? We know what the Samaritan did – but what was the reaction of the other nine? Did they go on to Jerusalem for their ritual purification? Or did they just part ways, each going to his hometown so they could try to put together something of a normal life? Were they happy? Surprised? Maybe they were angry. Angry that they got sick in the first place. Angry that it took so long to be healed. Were they grateful? Why didn’t they return to give thanks? Or did they expect this? Did they feel entitled to this? Was their faith a free gift to God, or did they only respond to His call on their hearts because they wanted something? Maybe their faith wasn’t strong; it was shallow, too. Do we only respond to God, do we only go to God when we want something?
Finally, back to the Samaritan. He returns, glorifying God in a loud voice – before, he begged of God in a loud voice, now he glorifies Him – and falls at the feet of Jesus to thank him. Man, is that a weak translation. The Greek word there is eucharisteon. He Eucharists Jesus, if you will. Because while the word Eucharist is translated as thanksgiving, that’s not a strong enough sense of the word. Within the word Eucharist is the word charis, meaning grace. And that, in turn, is closely related to the Greek word chara, which means joy. Eucharist isn’t just giving thanks, but it’s giving thanks – in this profoundly joyful way, even and especially when we are at our lowest – giving thanks not just for what we have in that moment, but for everything we’ve ever had, or will. Or won’t, in some cases. The Samaritan didn’t just thank him, he Eucharist-ed Him.
In a few minutes we will offer our Eucharist. Is our faith strong enough that we can offer a prayer of thanksgiving as strong and as humble as that Samaritan did? If not, let us ask God to strengthen us and our faith today.
I close with this prayer of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, which seems appropriate today:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
My memory, my understanding,
And my entire will.
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
That is enough for me.